A Providential Intervention


The valley narrowed as they advanced, the banks rising gently on

both sides. Both dragons had flown straight to a grove of tall,

spreading trees. On coming near to this, they noticed a faint

smell like that of the dragon, and also like the trace they found

in the air on leaving the Callisto the day before, after they had

sought safety within it. Soon it almost knocked them down.

"We must get to wind
ard," said Cortlandt. "I already feel

faint, and believe those dragons could kill a man by breathing on


Accordingly, they skirted around the grove, and having made a

quarter circle--for they did not wish the dragons to wind

them--again drew nearer. Tree after tree was passed, and finally

they saw an open space twelve or fifteen acres in area at the

centre of the grove, when they were arrested by a curious sound

of munching. Peering among the trunks of the huge trees, they

advanced cautiously, but stopped aghast. In the opening were at

least a hundred dragons devouring the toadstools with which the

ground was covered. Many of them were thirty to forty feet long,

with huge and terribly long, sharp claws, and jaws armed with

gleaming batteries of teeth. Though they had evidently lungs,

and the claws and mouth of an animal, they reminded the observers

in many respects of insects enormously exaggerated, for their

wings, composed of a sort of transparent scale, were small, and

moved, as they had already seen, at far greater speed than those

of a bird. Their projecting eyes were also set rigidly in their

heads instead of turning, and consisted of a number of flat

surfaces or facets, like a fly's eye, so that they could see

backward and all around, each facet seeing anything the rays from

which came at right angles to its surface. This beautiful grove

was doubtless their feeding-ground, and, as such, was likely to

be visited by many more. Concluding it would be wise to let

their wounded game escape, the three men were about to retreat,

having found it difficult to breathe the air even at that

distance from the monsters, when the wounded dragon that they had

observed moving about in a very restless manner, and evidently

suffering a good deal from the effect of its wounds, espied them,

and, with a roar that made the echoes ring, started towards them

slowly along the ground, followed by the entire herd, the nearer

of which now also saw them. Seeing that their lives were in

danger, the hunters quickly regained the open, and then stretched

their legs against the wind. The dragons came through the trees

on the ground, and then, raising themselves by their wings, the

whole swarm, snorting, and darkening the air with their deadly

breath, made straight for the men, who by comparison looked like

Lilliputians. With the slug from his right barrel Bearwarden

ended the wounded dragon's career by shooting him through the

head, and with his left laid low the one following. Ayrault also

killed two huge monsters, and Cortlandt killed one and wounded

another. Their supply of prepared cartridges was then exhausted,

and they fell back on their revolvers and ineffective spreading

shot. Resolved to sell their lives dearly, they retreated,

keeping their backs to the wind, with the poisonous dragons in

front. But the breeze was very slight, and they were being

rapidly blinded and asphyxiated by the loathsome fumes, and

deafened by the hideous roaring and snapping of the dragons'

jaws. Realizing that they could not much longer reply to the

diabolical host with lead, they believed their last hour had

come, when the ground on which they were making their last stand

shook, there was a rending of rocks and a rush of imprisoned

steam that drowned even the dragons' roar, and they were

separated from them by a long fissure and a wall of smoke and

vapour. Struggling back from the edge of the chasm, they fell

upon the ground, and then for the first time fully realized that

the earthquake had saved them, for the dragons could not come

across the opening, and would not venture to fly through the

smoke and steam. When they recovered somewhat from the shock,

they cut a number of cartridges in the same way that they had

prepared those that had done them such good service, and kept one

barrel of each gun loaded with that kind.

"We may thank Providence," said Bearwarden, "for that escape. I

hope we shall have no more such close calls."

With a parting glance at the chasm that had saved their lives,

and from which a cloud still arose, they turned slightly to the

right of their former course and climbed the gently rising bank.

When near the top, being tired of their exciting experiences,

they sat down to rest. The ground all about them was covered

with mushrooms, white on top and pink underneath.

"This is a wonderful place for fungi," said Ayrault. "Here,

doubtless, we shall be safe from the dragons, for they seemed to

prefer the toadstools." As he lay on the ground he watched one

particular mushroom that seemed to grow before his eyes.

Suddenly, as he looked, it vanished. Dumfounded at this

unmistakable manifestation of the phenomenon they thought they

had seen on landing, he called his companions, and, choosing

another mushroom, the three watched it closely. Presently,

without the least noise or commotion, that also disappeared,

leaving no trace, and the same fate befell a number of others.

At a certain point of their development they vanished as

completely as a bubble of air coming to the surface of water,

except that they caused no ripple, leaving merely a small

depression where they had stood.

"Well," said Bearwarden, "in all my travels I never have seen

anything like this. If I were at a sleight-of-hand performance,

and the prestidigitateur, after doing that, asked for my theory,

I should say, 'I give it up.' How is it with you, doctor?" he

asked, addressing Cortlandt.

"There must be an explanation," replied Cortlandt, "only we do

not know the natural law to which the phenomenon is subject,

having had no experience with it on earth. We know that all

substances can be converted into gases, and that all gases can be

reduced to liquids, and even solids, by the application of

pressure and cold. If there is any way by which the visible

substance of these fungi can be converted into its invisible

gases, as water into oxygen and hydrogen, what we have seen can

be logically explained. Perhaps, favoured by some affinity of

the atmosphere, its constituent parts are broken up and become

gases at this barometric pressure and temperature. We must ask

the spirit, if he visits us again."

"I wish he would," said Ayrault; "there are lots of things I

should like to ask him."

"Presidents of corporations and other chairmen," said Bearwarden,

"are not usually superstitious, and I, of course, take no stock

in the supernatural; but somehow I have a well-formed idea that

our friend the bishop, with the great power of his mind over

matter, had a hand in that earthquake. He seems to have an

exalted idea of our importance, and may be exerting himself to

make things pleasant."

At this point the sun sank below the horizon, and they found

themselves confronted with night.

"Dear, dear!" said Bearwarden, "and we haven't a crumb to eat.

I'll stand the drinks and the pipes," he continued, passing

around his ubiquitous flask and tobacco-pouch.

"If I played such pranks with my interior on earth," said

Cortlandt, helping himself to both, "as I do on this planet, it

would give me no end of trouble, but here I seem to have the

digestion of an ostrich."

So they sat and smoked for an hour, till the stars twinkled and

the rings shone in their glory.

"Well," said Ayrault, finally, "since we have nothing but

motions to lay on the table, I move we adjourn."

"The only motion I shall make," said Cortlandt, who was already

undressed, "will be that of getting into bed," saying which, he

rolled himself in his blanket and soon was fast asleep.

Having decided that, on account of the proximity of the dragons,

a man must in any event be on the watch, they did not set the

protection-wires. From the shortness of the nights, they divided

them into only two watches of from two hours to two and a half

each, so that, even when constant watch duty was necessary, each

man had one full night's sleep in three. On this occasion

Ayrault and Cortlandt were the watchers, Cortlandt having the

morning and Ayrault the evening watch. Many curious quadruped

birds, about the size of large bears, and similar in shape,

having bear-shaped heads, and several creatures that looked like

the dragons, flew about them in the moonlight; but neither

watcher fired a shot, as the creatures showed no desire to make

an attack. All these species seemed to belong to the owl or bat

tribe, for they roamed abroad at night.